Emhoff: ‘I’m in pain right now’ over rising antisemitism

FILE - Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, speaks during a reception to...
FILE - Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, speaks during a reception to celebrate the Jewish new year in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Sept. 30, 2022. Emhoff hosted Jewish leaders for a discussion about a rise in antisemitism and efforts to fight hate in the United States.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Published: Dec. 7, 2022 at 6:25 AM HST|Updated: Dec. 7, 2022 at 1:01 PM HST
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, said Wednesday that he is “in pain right now” over rising antisemitism in the United States but will keep speaking out against it and other forms of bigotry and hate for “as long as I have this microphone.”

“There is an epidemic of hate facing our country. We’re seeing a rapid rise in antisemitic rhetoric and acts,” said Emhoff, who is Jewish. “Let me be clear: Words matter. People are no longer saying the quiet parts out loud. They are literally screaming them.”

He said such attitudes are dangerous and must not be accepted.

“We cannot normalize this. We all have an obligation to condemn these vile acts,” Emhoff said. “We must all, all of us, not stay silent.”

The second gentleman, which is Emhoff’s unofficial title, hosted a White House discussion on antisemitism and combating hate with Jewish leaders representing the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox denominations of the faith.

Emhoff spoke in his opening remarks about growing up in a “typical Jewish family.” He was born in the New York City borough of Brooklyn and grew up in New Jersey. He said his great-grandparents had escaped persecution in what is now Poland, and he recalled reading their names on a ship’s manifest during a visit to Ellis Island, once an immigrant processing hub.

“It’s our identity. It’s my identity and I’m in pain right now,” he said. “We’re all in pain right now.”

Emhoff said he became a lawyer to stand up for others and fight inequality. He was a successful entertainment lawyer in California when his wife was elected vice president.

In his current role, Emhoff has grown increasingly outspoken about growing bias toward Jews, most recently by public figures with large followings, and hate at large.

Emhoff said these anti-Jewish attitudes are spread by old tropes, misinformation and falsehoods. He called them dangerous and said there is no either-or or both sides to the issue.

“Everyone, all of us, must be against this, must be against antisemitism,” Emhoff said.

The roundtable, at which various White House and other officials also participated, followed a surge in anti-Jewish vitriol spread by prominent public figures.

Former President Donald Trump recently hosted Nick Fuentes, a Holocaust-denying white supremacist, at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida. The rapper Ye — formerly known as Kanye West — expressed love for Adolf Hitler in an interview. Basketball star Kyrie Irving appeared to promote an antisemitic film on social media. Neo-Nazi trolls are clamoring to return to Twitter as new CEO Elon Musk grants “amnesty” to suspended accounts.

“Antisemitism is Jew hatred,” said Deborah Lipstadt, who is President Joe Biden’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism. “They hate Jews because they’re Jews.”

Emhoff and other administration officials noted that Biden has secured increased funding from Congress to tighten security at synagogues and other houses of worship, appointed leaders such as Lipstadt to focus on hate crime, signed legislation to counter anti-Asian hate crime and recently hosted a summit against hate-fueled violence.

Emhoff said Wednesday’s roundtable marked a beginning.

“And as long as I have this microphone, I am going to speak out against hate, bigotry, and lies,’ he said. “I will not remain silent. ... I’m proud to be Jewish. I’m proud to live openly as a Jew and I’m not afraid. We refuse to be afraid.”

Participants included representatives of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Agudath, Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, American Jewish Committee, Orthodox Union, Jewish on Campus, National Council of Jewish Women, Hillel, Secure Community Network, Religious Action Center, Anti-Defamation League, Integrity First for America and American Friends of Lubavitch.

Senior White House advisers Susan Rice and Keisha Lance Bottoms also participated.